Caribbean Court of Justice logo
Caribbean Court of Justice logo (Photo credit: Mark Morgan Trinidad B)

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is sitting from March 4-8, 2013 for the first time at the Jamaica Conference Centre  in Kingston, Jamaica, as it hears a case brought by a Jamaican, Shanique Myrie, against the state of Barbados.

Miss Myrie is alleging that she was subjected to discriminatory treatment by government officials when she sought to enter Barbados and that the discrimination was based on her nationality. This, she is arguing, is contrary to the Barbadian government’s obligations under the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas which governs the operations of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

It is a significant development for the region for a number of reasons. The discussion about whether CARICOM countries should accede to the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ has been going on for years, somewhat obscuring the fact that the CCJ is up, running and adjudicating, and that Jamaica does in fact have access to the Court in its original jurisdiction, in relation to matters arising under the Treaty.

That simply means that if a matter relates to the Treaty of Chaguaramas, for example, trade, or as in allegations in the current case, free movement or discrimination based on nationality, the only court legally empowered to adjudicate on such matters is the CCJ.

The Shanique Myrie case brings the court to life for Jamaicans. It is sitting in real time, in Jamaican space, dealing with an issue that many Jamaicans have complained about – their treatment at the hands of immigration officials of other Caribbean countries.

Although based in Trinidad and Tobago, it had long been proposed that the CCJ would be itinerant, travelling throughout the region to hear cases. This is the first such occasion. It demonstrates to Caribbean nationals the proximity of the Court, and removes at least one layer of cost involved in traveling to the UK to access the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. I am not going to pretend that this will make access to the Court cheap, or even affordable for many. Legal fees can be prohibitive, and as the Shanique Myrie case has shown, depending on the facts of the case, traveling costs can still apply.

Nevertheless, this exposure can only be good for the Court.

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